The turn of a new century would prove to be somewhat more than a symbolic harbinger of change in the life of Mr. Roger Jenyns, Esq. In little more than two years from 1700 this gent would: gain a knighthood, acquire a country house and estate, lose one wife (their three children having all previously died in infancy), and marry another. The estate was at Bottisham, seven mile east of Cambridge, a place which, precisely one hundred years on, would welcome a son for whom life was to unfold in altogether more sedate fashion.


see: Google Maps

The Rev. Leonard Jenyns lived all but seven years of the C19. His first post after university saw him venture north from Bottisham Hall .. about 800 yards north, to the adjacent parish of Swaffham Bulbeck which he would serve for the next thirty years. ‘I have never been abroad,’ he declared¹ in his 89th year, a lack of adventurousness not – as we shall see – without…

… its own historical significance but which was untypical of the spirit which had first brought the Jenyns family to this place, and where they remain to this day.


On the morning of May 30, 1649, at a house in London’s Temple Bar, nine gentlemen gathered in a mood of businesslike self-congratulation, the previous day having seen the passing of a private parliamentary Act ‘for draining the Great Level of the Fens‘. Senior among those assembled was the 5th Earl of Bedford (later 1st Duke thereof) who was spearheading the revival of his late father’s ambitious scheme, a project interrupted by the Civil War but now given fair wind by Fenlander Oliver Cromwell. This epic undertaking was to be bankrolled by private investors, termed ‘Adventurers’, in return for rights in much of the land reclaimed.

Also present that morning was one Thomas Jenyns, younger son of Hertfordshire squire Sir John Jenyns and at this time a leaseholder of land in Hayes, Middlesex. Despite the many tribulations of the Fens enterprise, the family’s investment was plainly fruitful. In 1677 Thomas’s son, Roger, would acquire the manor of Hayes, having been one of twenty-seven Adventurers who constituted the original board of the Bedford Level Corporation. Subsequent generations ‘filled many of the most responsible offices of the Corporation’ until well into the nineteenth century.²

Roger Jenyns served ‘successively as conservator, bailiff, and surveyor general of Fens till his death in 1693’ whereupon he was succeeded as surveyor by his eldest son, John (also MP for Cambridgeshire 1701-17). They are among many Jenyns interred in Hayes church but Roger’s namesake younger son would be strikingly memorialised in Cambridgeshire having relocated closer to the heart of the action.

Behind a screen in Holy Trinity church, Bottisham, life-size effigies of Sir Roger Jenyns and his second wife, Elizabeth Soame, sit reposed in night attire, a composition which raised eyebrows in the first half of the C18. Knighted in recognition of his Fenland endeavours, Sir Roger had purchased the old estate of the Alington family at Bottisham, on the edge the Fens.


see: RCHM

At the heart of this property was the C15 moated manor house which ‘shortly after 1700 Jenyns remodelled (r), refacing it in red brick and converted the moat into a ‘canal”. And so it would remain thoughout the long lifetime of Sir Roger’s son and heir, save for the installing of a ‘large library’ as might befit…

…  the lively mind of one of the eighteenth century’s more impish men of letters.

For Soame Jenyns (1704-87) life was rarely dull. Leaving Cambridge University without taking his degree, Soame promptly entered into a marriage – contrived by his father – with his first cousin Mary Soame, a young heiress (‘of between 20 and £30,000‘) of whom Sir Roger was guardian. In summer the three lived ‘tolerably well together’ at Bottisham but in winter Soame preferred the diversions of London, ‘his mind by some means warped aside to the paths of infidelity’.


see: National Trust

A sparkling conversationalist, Soame’s urbane charm compensated for an unfortunate physical appearance. ‘Jenyns was so ugly that when [the playwright] Richard Sheridan’s sister met him at a reading party she judged him “the most hideous mortal” she had ever beheld’.³ A dandyish sartorial style went only so far in distracting from various facial tumours, broken teeth and ‘a laugh scarcely human’. Horace Walpole held Soame’s portrait by Reynolds (r) to be veritable ‘proof of Sir Joshua’s art’.³

But from an (initially) anonymous debut verse, The art of dancing, Soame fancied himself at home in the rarified company of such sharp wordsmiths, becoming a prolific, whimsically provocative poet and pamphleteer on matters topical and philosophical. One particular work, A free inquiry into the nature and origins of evil, would be remembered by posterity but, alas, more for the celebrated critique it attracted from Dr Samuel Johnson who decided that its author needed ‘to be thrashed in full view of the public’.4

johnsonWhile he received hate mail, ‘letters charged with great acrimony [and] much abuse’, the lofty barbs from the editor of The Literary Magazine were perhaps more wounding. Suggesting a more fitting subject for Jenyns’ next disquisition, Johnson wrote: ‘I should wish that he would solve this question, Why he that has nothing to write, should desire to be a writer.’ Twenty years after his death it would be said of Soame, ‘He wrote verses upon dancing, and prose upon the origin of evil; yet he was a very indifferent metaphysician, and a worse dancer’.

Matters were no less turbulent on the home front. Soon after old Sir Roger died Jenyns’s wife eloped with the MP for Nottinghamshire, notorious philanderer William Levinz (itself ‘extraordinary [as] she was noways inviting’). But Soame did not have to look far for a replacement, marrying another cousin, the importunate Elizabeth Grey, who had been taken in at Bottisham Hall several years previously.


see: RCHM

As productive as his long life was (being also a dilligent MP, mostly for Cambridge, and public administrator over 35 years) at his death in 1787 Soame had no direct heir. So Bottisham now passed to his uncle’s great-grandson, the Rev. George Leonard Jenyns, who proceeded to sell off the contents of the old Hall which was then demolished in favour of a new house built just yards away (r).

‘We are well into the Neo-Classical period, and – in Cambridgeshire especially – the accompanying rejection of the great house type in favour of more compact, villa-like plans.’ Fashioned from the characteristic white bricks of the chalky Cambridgeshire Gault, Bottisham Hall is ‘an attractive and gratifying intact house of two tall storeys in the Wyatt manner’5


see: Jason Webb


see: RCHM

… initially on a square plan (an L-shaped service wing being added later). The semi-circular central bay fronts an oval entrance hall; further in, ‘the main staircase rises around three sides of the ‘D’-shaped stairhall and returns to a landing [featuring] a screen of two Ionic columns’.‘Much of the furniture acquired c.1800 remains in the house.’

Over the next two decades Rev. Jenyns would also greatly expand the parkland around the house creating the present 140-acre private domain – as one 2016 visitor noted, ‘many locals told us this was the first time they had entered the Hall’s grounds’ – of which his youngest son would be especially appreciative. ‘Cambridgeshire being open country, the gardens and plantations were like an oasis in the desert,’ recalled Rev. Leonard Jenyns (1800-93) reflecting upon a lifetime of scholarly local fieldwork which would see him become ‘an eminent, much respected naturalist’.7


see: Yale Center

Somewhat regretful that his father, ‘while quite a young man, came into possession of all of the Bottisham Hall property .. leading him to abandon ways and habits suitable to a clergyman’, Leonard’s studious inclinations flowed from his mother and her immediate family.¹ Mary Heberden was the daughter and sister of distinguished physicians (her portrait being painted for his doctor by a grateful Thomas Gainsborough). But his father, being canon of Ely Cathedral, did have his uses…

… young Leonard being appointed curate at the church closest to the Hall directly upon ordination allowing continued study of the local flora and fauna, often in the company of his ex-Cambridge friends.


see: Bing Maps

“I shall never forget, as long as I may live, the happy hours I spent with you at Bottisham,” wrote Charles Darwin, whose later renown Jenyns would inadvertently assist. For in 1831 Captain FitzRoy had offered Jenyns the berth as naturalist aboard HMS Beagle ahead of his five-year expedition to South America. Citing parish responsibilities and uncertain health Leonard would decline the invitation recommending instead his young friend, Darwin. The rest is (natural) history.


see: accessart

On this day two years ago a pair of windows commemorating Rev. Jenyns were unveiled in the porch of Swaffham Bulbeck church by the present owner of Bottisham Hall. Leonard’s father was himself vicar (for over fifty years) of Swaffham Prior just a mile or so further up the lane. The land between these two villages is principally occupied by the parkland of Swaffham Prior House. It was here in 1901 that the prolific bestselling novelist H. Rider Haggard was put up by squire Charles Allix as he travelled about taking the pulse of post-depression Rural England for the Daily Express.


Bulbeck Beacon (Jan 2015)

As Mr. Allix and his near neighbour, Roger Jenyns of Bottisham Hall (1858-1936), explained to the writer, ‘Some of the old Cambridgeshire families still remain but during the last score of years most of them have melted away, their place filled by an influx of millionaires’. In the 1980s Swaffham Prior House was itself sold to a local millionaire who would be knighted for his commitment to the region, as Sir Roger Jenyns had been three centuries before. But at the latter’s Bottisham estate, presently the home of his namesake (right), change remains a relative stranger…


¹ Blomefield (formerly Jenyns), L. Chapters in my life, 1889.
² Wells, S. The history of the drainage of the great level of the Fens, 1830.
³ Rompkey, R. Soame Jenyns, 1984.
4 Hanley, B. Samuel Johnson as book reviewer, 2003.
5 Bradley, S, Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, 2014.
6 Kenworthy-Browne, J., et al. Burke’s & Savills guide to country houses: East Anglia, 1981.
7 Dictionary of national biography, 2004.

‘Reader, I married him’

– Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre


see: Mike Smith @ geograph

Eastleigh is a town in Hampshire just north-east of the New Forest. It is also the name given to the fictional house and estate at the centre of a now ten-year-old novel, The Chase by Candida Clark: ‘Built in 1725, Eastleigh was a house to fall in love with. On certain days in spring the bluebell walk within a broad avenue of limes could be seen by the public.’

The house pictured above is grade I-listed Hinton Admiral, situated on the fringe of the New Forest some twenty-five miles south-west of Eastleigh. Its ‘magnificent twenty acre garden within a much larger estate’ includes a ‘ten acre lime-tree avenue filled with bluebells’, one of the many attractions of the Hinton Admiral annual open day each May. The Chase, Candida Clark’s sixth novel in eight years, was published in the spring of 2006. Later that same year the writer married George Meyrick, heir not only to the Hinton Admiral estate but also to Bodorgan Hall in north Wales (itself ‘a sizeable mansion house, run to a very high standard’) and an C18 baronetcy. Since when Clark has disappeared from the literary scene.

(In a remarkable example of art prefiguring life, the pivotal protagonist of Clark’s last book, Celia Domeyne, wife of Sir Leo, has two daughters and is pregnant with a son. The Meyrick household has since expanded in precisely the same rhythm.)

Were the author ever in need of narrative inspiration for a return to the fray she need look no further than the pictures on the walls. At Bodorgan Hall, a late C18 house sequestered within 14,000 acres on the island of Anglesey, there hangs a portrait, ‘Lady Lucy Meyrick (nee Pitt) as a child’. In fact, Lucy Pitt was but fourteen years old when she married into this family, she and her equally youthful cousin being sensational runaway brides of the schoolboy Meyrick brothers.


see: Dorset Life

Some 320 miles south, a Joseph Highmore portrait (r) of Lydia, Lady Mews, adorns Hinton Admiral, a house built a year after their marriage in 1719 by her similarly middle-aged husband. Sir Peter died six years later contentiously leaving all to the ‘hated’ Lady Lydia. These paintings form part of the collections of two private houses whose hitherto entirely separate histories coalesced 140 years ago under the ownership of Sir George Tapps Gervis Meyrick, 3rd Bt. (The tripartite surname endures, foreshortened in practice today.)

At the election of 1715 Owen Meyrick of Bodorgan entered parliament as the member for Anglesey upholding the Whig sentiments of a family long established on the island. Meanwhile, Sir Peter Mews, a Tory MP of five years standing, was again returned for Christchurch (then) in Hampshire, the manor he had purchased for £22,000 in 1708. However, politically and geographically poles apart, a mutual encounter between the two men significantly responsible for the dimensions of the present-day Meyrick Estate is perhaps unlikely.

Valued service to various Tudor monarchs had helped establish the position of the ancient Meyrick (Meurig) family in the south-west of Anglesey. A debilitating decade-long legal wrangle with a neighbouring landowner at the end of the C16 (which saw ‘both parties indulging in a lively campaign of slander, counter-slander and physical violence’) would take a century to recover from.¹ But throughout the lifetime of Owen Meyrick (1682-1759) ‘the Bodorgan estate grew enormously’, initially through inheritance of the lands of the Bold family through his mother, later by systematic purchase.² ‘Owen Meyrick was the real founder of the later fortunes of the family’ in Wales. [Estate archive, Bangor Univ.]


see: Google Maps

Quite how this pillar of society took the news that two of his sons, then boarders at Westminster School, had impulsively entered into ‘quickie’ marriages with two even younger girls whom they barely knew, one can only imagine. Lady Lucy Pitt was the youngest child of Thomas Pitt, 1st earl of Londonderry, upon whose death in 1729 she was sent to live in the restrictive household of her cousin Jane Chomondeley’s family at their town house in Buckingham Gate, W1. Lucy’s older brothers, Thomas and Ridgeway, also attended nearby Westminster School.

The miserable regime to which young Lucy and Jane were subject came to the attention of the Meyrick boys, Pierce and Richard, who, upon gallant impulse, enacted a ‘plan’ to liberate the girls, marry and perhaps even flee abroad. A dash to the environs of the debtors’ Fleet Prison hastily ensued, wherein dissolute clergymen ‘earned a disgraceful livelihood coupling young people together at the shortest notice’, no questions asked, commonly in the upstairs room of a local tavern. Trade came mostly from the lower orders but ‘occasionally the dreary purlieus of the Fleet were lighted up by erratic flashes of quality and fashion’.


see source

So it was that Pierce took Lucy, Richard took Jane and, surprisingly, all appear to have lived happily ever after. For, as the annals of Westminster School record, after a period of years both couples formally remarried in 1732. On reflection, Owen Meyrick perhaps concluded that the boys could have fared no better in the marriage market had matters taken a more conventional course. Lady Lucy’s grandfather had sold the fabulous ‘Pitt Diamond‘ (acquired during his time as Governor of Madras) to the French monarchy in 1717 for over £100,000. Comfortably outliving her two childless brothers, Woodlands Manor in Wiltshire (r) was among the Pitt assets which flowed to Pierce Meyrick via his wife. (Jane Cholmondeley was also reportedly ‘a lady of great fortune’.³)

Down in Hampshire impetuous teenage offspring were one problem Sir Peter and Lady Mews would never encounter, the pair being both in their forties when they married in 1719. When he was aged just 25, Mews had been appointed Chancellor to the Bishop of Winchester (who happened to be his uncle). Ten years later, the ambitious purchase of the manor of Christchurch, while enhancing his status and taking him to Westminster, gradually burdened his coffers to the extent that a late marriage to Islington property heiress Lydia Jarvis (or Gervis), 42, suddenly made great sense. And now, of course, Lady Lydia would need an appropriate residence.


‘Hinton Place’ (see: British Library)


Len Williams @ geograph

In the north of Hampshire stands Warbrook House (r), built for himself by architect John James in 1723, the same year in which he succeeded Sir Christopher Wren as surveyor of St. Paul’s Cathedral. James Lees-Milne has not unreasonably suggested that Hinton Admiral is strongly redolent of James’ ‘plain Baroque’4 style, the Mews’ house being similarly a brick mansion with an ‘unmistakable’5 raised central section defined by simple pilasters. Two long service blocks ran perpendicular to the main house, connected by colonnades, a ‘grandiose, grossly inconvenient plan for a house of by no means large proportions’.6

Alas, at the height of his squirarchical pomp Sir Peter Mews died in 1726 aged 54. Claiming no family, Mews left all to his wife but a Thomas Mew of London was anonymously encouraged by letter to pursue a claim. ‘Everybody hates My Lady Mew and wish that she may lose the estate. They say that she is a mean, miserable woman and tricking.’7 A subsequent legal challenge was eventually seen off by the redoubtable Lydia who would bequeath Hinton to her nephew, Benjamin Clerke. His son would also encounter Chancery woe when inheriting as a minor, a suit questioning the legitimacy of Joseph Jarvis Clerke being thrown out at a hearing at the Guildhall in January 1754.8


see: Google Maps

In 1777, the year before he died, Joseph saw his house gutted by fire. But the exterior structure remained sound, faithful reconstruction commencing immediately, seen through by his heir, cousin George Tapps (created Sir George, 1st Bt., in 1792). Additionally, balancing wings behind each colonnade filled out the original composition.

Meanwhile, just as the restoration and expansion of Hinton was coming together, in 1779 up on Anglesey a new house was also rising.

Bodorgan was now in the hands of Owen Meyrick’s grandson, Owen Putland Meyrick, seen (r) in a George Romney portrait of 1788. Meyrick had married Clara, eldest of three daughters of wealthy Richard Garth (whose family were long seated at Morden Hall in Surrey, now National Trust). Through the first half of the C18 the three great landed interests on Anglesey – Bodorgan, the Bulkeleys of Baron Hill and the Baylys at Plas Newydd – had jostled for dominance. But by the 1770s the young masters of Bodorgan and Baron Hill were congenial contemporaries, Owen Meyrick, Lord Bulkeley and their heiress wives frequently dining together.9


see: Oliver Mills

Between 1776-1779 architect Samuel Wyatt was engaged to significantly remodel Baron Hill (left, now derelict though the estate remains in the same hands). Wyatt’s site manager on this project was young John Cooper who would be talent-spotted by Meyrick and given his big break with the commission to rebuild Bodorgan.


see: Coflein

The old hall was largely demolished, replaced by a ‘neo-classical mansion of smooth ashlar masonry in a pale, yellowish stone, with a slate roof. The main east front has nine bays, the central three on a semi-circular bow with a domed roof. [There are] fine views from the house and garden out over the park to the estuary and Snowdonia beyond.’ (John Cooper would go on to complete the Anglesey ‘big house’ hat-trick, remodelling Plas Newydd soon after.)

Owen and Clara’s only child, Clara, married Augustus Fuller and their son, Owen Fuller Meyrick, succeeded to Bodorgan in 1825, dying unmarried in 1876. His long tenure saw some rearrangement and extension of the house but ‘the circular saloon, and the hall with its graceful curving stone staircase, remain today as models of C18 elegance’.9 The gardens (which in Tudor times featured terracing
down to the sea) would gain particular repute during this period: ‘A large sum is annually put at the gardener’s disposal for the procurement of horticultural novelties. On visiting Bodorgan the wonder is how such an Eden could be formed in so out-of-the-way a place.’10


see: Tina Endall

In the same year that her brother had inherited this remote domain, Meyrick’s sister, another Clara, married the heir to Hinton Admiral, Sir George Tapps Gervis, 2nd Bt., (whose father had willed that the ‘Jarvis’ variant be appended henceforth ‘to mark my respect for the memory of Lady Mews’). Their son, Sir George Tapps Gervis of Hinton Admiral, gained his second estate and third surname from his bachelor uncle in 1876. (While the last name has been a variable, the christian name of every baronet has remained the same, a tradition certain to continue for at least the next two generations.) Since the unification of Hinton and Bodorgan descent has been straightforwardly father-to-son, the present owner being…


see: Bournemouth.com

… Sir George (Tapps Gervis) Meyrick, 7th Bt., who ranked on the most recent Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated worth of £125m. This figure is accounted for less by 14,000-acre Bodorgan (and its state-of-the-art racetrack) than by the 6,000 acres of southern England, including sizeable swathes of Bournemouth and Christchurch whose C19 development was significantly underwritten by Meyrick estate investment.


see: Bing Maps

The Hinton Admiral estate also includes 2,000 acres of woodland in the New Forest national park, the proposed boundaries of which were redrawn to explicitly exclude the parkland around the house – ‘It is notable that there are no public rights of way through Hinton Park’ – following a landmark legal case. (Similarly, walkers on the Wales Coastal Path are obliged to take an uncommon detour inland around Bodorgan, affording a level of privacy appreciated by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their Anglesey sojourn.)


see: Gabriella Gardens

In the early years of the last century the fourth baronet engaged Harold Peto to reimagine some of the principal interior and exterior spaces at Hinton. His ‘rich Frenchy ballroom’5 features ‘plentiful gilding done in powdered gold, a method rarely employed on account of its cost’.6 But it is as the creator of ‘some of the finest gardens in England’ that Peto is best known and the annual garden open day at Hinton affords a chance to enjoy the Italianate pergola and terracing (r) of his ‘matchless remodelling’.11


see: Country Life

That terracing will likely have had a good hosing down before the day in order to remove the deposits of Hinton’s most conspicuous and troublesome residents, delightful peacocks who further endear themselves by ‘screeching at dawn beneath the bedroom window’.

Celia glanced up as one of the peacocks cried out on the terrace. They were her husband’s, too; after ten years of marriage she had still not got used to them.‘ – Candida Clark, The Chase, 2006.

[Bodorgan Estate]

¹ Jones, E.G. Some notes on the principal families of Anglesey in the C16 & early C17, Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society, 1939.
² Roberts, T. The Meyrick family of Bodorgan Hall, Trans.Ang.Ant.Soc., 1983.
³ Grub Street Journal, 10 Aug 1732.
4 Jeffery, S. English baroque architecture: The work of John James, thesis, 1986.
5 Pevsner, N., Lloyd, D. The buildings of England: Hampshire, 1967.
6 Weaver, L. Hinton Admiral, Country Life, 8 Oct 1910.
7 Turcotte, D. Strange affairs at Christchurch, 2011.
8 Whitehall Evening Post, Jan 1754.
9 Mapp, V.E. The rebuilding of Bodorgan Hall, Trans.Ang.Ant.Soc., 1983.
10 North Wales Chronicle, 13 June 1837.
11 Mowl, T., Whitaker, J. The historic gardens of England: Hampshire, 2016.

If, as is sometimes suggested, the cost of a Catholic upbringing is a life-long guilty conscience, how much worse for the recusant landed family whose estate owes its existence to Henry VIII’s rupture with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries? And the ironies don’t end there at Cheeseburn Grange, near Stamfordham, eleven miles north-west of Newcastle upon Tyne, a property passed only by marriage and inheritance since the Reformation.


see: Andrew Curtis @ geograph

Cheeseburn Grange is just one of several houses in the county which have been associated successively with the same two extensive Northumbrian families, the Widdringtons and Riddells, whose religious and Royalist affiliations, combined with their proxmity to Scotland, lead almost inevitably to their participation in the 1715 Jacobite uprising. Strange then that Cheeseburn’s most high-profile owner to date should have been a Puritan Parliamentarian who actively sought to undermine the constitutional position of the Scots.


You have established your throne upon two columns of diamond, Piety and Justice; the one gives you to God, the other gives Men to you, and all your subjects are most happy in both.”


see: NPG

Words taken from the address of the Recorder of York, Thomas Widdrington, greeting the arrival of King Charles I in the city on 30 March, 1639, effusive loyalty which plainly went down well as Widdrington was knighted the following day. Eighteen years later, however, Sir Thomas (left), by now the Speaker of the House of Commons, was overseeing Oliver Cromwell’s investiture as Lord Protector (Cromwell having resisted Widdrington’s recommendation that he take the crown as king).

Sir Thomas’s father, Lewis Widdrington, was the illegitimate offspring of a family prominent in Northumbria since the C12; by the end of the C16 he was the owner (via marriage) of Cheeseburn, formerly a grange of Hexham Priory. Thomas duly inherited in 1630, married Frances Fairfax three years later and in April 1640 as the MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed he entered parliament and the cockpit of constitutional calamity.

widdiA cautious lawyer by reputation, Puritan Widdrington, whilst ready and willing to confront the likes of backsliding bishops such as Matthew Wren (right), would have no part in the prosecution of their tacit inspiration, the king himself. But there could be no real hiding place from the harsh realities of civil conflict when your brother-in-law (Thomas Lord Fairfax) was commander-in-chief of the New Model Army and your sister (Hannah) was married to John Rushworth, personal secretary to Oliver Cromwell.

Widdrington’s metier was backroom negotiation and he would be right there at the anvil as a new constitutional settlement was hammered out. Sir Thomas was not without his own agenda, however. As the leader of the ‘Northern Gentlemen’ faction of MPs (historically wary of their neighbours north of the border), Widdrington’s perceived attempts to relegate the role of Scotland created ‘apprehension which contributed greatly to the outbreak of the Second Civil War’.¹

But Thomas’s generally moderating stance throughout these turbulent times saw him survive relatively unscathed in the spasm of vengeance which accompanied the restoration of the monarchy. Able to remain an MP, Widdrington lost most of his positions of office but not his property. His only son having predeceased him, at Sir Thomas’s death in 1664 Cheeseburn Grange passed briefly to his brother, Henry, and thirty years on was in the possession of Henry’s son, Ralph and his wife, Mary.



see: Santhosh Nair

We can be precise about this thanks to a feature in the walled garden at Cheeseburn, a splendid survival from a major remodelling of the house which would take place some 120 years later: ‘Entry to [the] summerhouse re-uses a door surround of 1694. In the pediment a large crest and shield of the Widdrington family inscribed RW MW 1694. Flanking the pediment two large busts of spotted bulls, the crest of the Widdringtons.’ [Listing]


see: Country Life

Ralph’s namesake grandson was to be the last Widdrington of Cheeseburn Grange, however. This Ralph’s sister, Mary, had married Thomas Riddell of Swinburne Castle (right), another Northumbrian seat which had belonged to the Widdringtons from the C13 until passing by marriage in 1678. (Swinburne has remained in this line; a C16 wing and C18 orangery were incorporated into a new house in the 1990s.)

Both Ralph Widdrington and Thomas Riddell were proactive Jacobites and spent several years in exile after their routing in 1715 but ultimately survived with their properties intact. Ralph died childless in 1752, Cheeseburn passing to his nephew, Thomas’s second son – Ralph.


see: Country Life

It’s clear that being Catholic gentry in the least densely populated county in England did somewhat limit the gene pool. Ralph Riddell’s elder brother, Thomas, married Elizabeth Widdrington, heiress of Felton Park (left). In turn, two of their sons would marry the Salvin sisters of that Catholic Co. Durham dynasty (seated at Croxdale Hall since the C15). The younger son, Edward, having inherited Felton Park through his mother, died just seven months after his wedding.

With Felton now passing to her brother-in-law (Ralph Riddell), Edward’s widow remarried … her late husband’s cousin, Ralph Riddell of Cheeseburn Grange.

Both Ralphs would significantly remodel their houses; at Cheeseburn, Ralph Riddell (1771-1831) turned to the coming man of architecture in the area, John Dobson. This young practicioner was not long back in his native North East after a spell furthering his education in London. Dobson had resisted flattering encouragement to set up in the capital sensing greater opportunities back home. And he was not wrong, being fully employed throughout a career which would leave a dominant stamp on both town and country locally. Ralph Riddell was amongst his earliest significant patrons, Dobson being engaged to refashion the house and park at Cheeseburn Grange from 1813.²


see: Newcastle Uni Music

While his country houses are most characteristically crisply classical in style, Dobson also developed a line in picturesque Gothic of which Cheeseburn is an agreeably modest example. Having removed the old main door surround to the garden, the entrance was now to the south and emphasised by a castellated porch and tower while ‘a high parapet pierced with Gothic openings [hid] the old roof’.³


see: A.J. Wigham / Flickr

Proposed turrets at each corner of the house never materialised but a new chapel attached to the west side of the house would be served by a private chaplain in continuance of the tradition of a Catholic mission at Cheeseburn.


see: Historic England

The altar (left) was later redesigned by ‘one of the most remarkable characters of the Victorian age’, Joseph Aloysius Hansom, also responsible for a substantial Gothic wing added to house c.1860 (r). While the inventor of the Hansom cab and founder of The Builder (now Building) magazine also has a substantial built legacy – Birmingham Town Hall, Arundel Cathedral, etc – this no longer includes his extension at Cheeseburn which was demolished in the 1970s.


see: Gary Scott / Flickr

‘Dobson’s proposals [at Cheeseburn] are important for also including major alterations to the surrounding parkland. He suggested a whole new scheme of planting to shelter the house, and replanned the driveway to enable the visitor on approach to fully appreciate the siting of the house in its landscape.’³ And very recently the visitor has been invited to appreciate the siting of other creations within this landscape…

… the past few years having seen the emergence of Cheeseburn Sculpture.

Sculpture at Cheeseburn, Northumberland

see: Sally-Ann Norman

On the walls are old masters whose darkness conceals their artistic insignificance‘ – Somerset Maughm’s comic put-down of the art likely adorning the minor country seat. Doubtless Cheeseburn Grange has had its share of such but is now determinedly raising its game. Part of a mini-trend which has seen some traditional private estates develop their grounds as occasional alfresco art galleries – at the opposite end of the country, Delamore in Devon (‘in the same family since 1688’) is a not-dissimilar model – Cheeseburn has, since 2014, become ‘a showcase for sculpture, design and art, where the public can encounter new and established work in the setting of our historic house and gardens’.


see: The Journal

Behind this serious commitment to new art is Joanna Riddell (left), wife of the present squire of the 2,000-acre Cheeseburn Grange estate. Since taking over from Simon Riddell’s bachelor uncle in 1992 gradual rejuvenation of the house and gardens (“project after project .. serious hard graft”) has finally made way for novel creativity. The recent conversion of outbuildings has expanded the curatorial options for Riddell (and arts consultant Matthew Jarratt); Cheeseburn’s latest show takes place this coming weekend.

Potentially overlooked these days amidst this sudden influx of diverting objets d’art, spare a thought for an ancient garden feature which was hitherto without rival as the object of curiosity and wonder hereabouts:

Pedestal sundial. C17. Sandstone. Complex multi-faceted top recording the time not only in Stamfordham but also in Cracow and Mexico.’


see: TammyTourGuide

But of course, Cracow and Mexico, where else? The exotic, mystifying dimensions of this grade II listed artifact gave inspiration to recent writer-in-residence, Linda France:

The old sundial has given up its ghost, a puzzle now of broken gnomons and random numbers, nearly worn away by centuries of March winds and April showers.’

The Dictionary of National Biography perhaps provides some clues: ‘James Riddell (d.1674) was the son of an English merchant descended from a landowning family who traded in Cracow, Poland, and later moved to Edinburgh.’


see source

Intruigingly, an earlier edition also notes that this James ‘made the acquaintance of Oliver Cromwell, who is said to have stayed some time in his house in Leith’.

Maybe one day all will be explained. But for now, with the bar having been significantly raised in the fascination stakes around here, it’s perhaps just as well that the old sundial should remain simply another of the riddles of Cheeseburn Grange…

[Cheeseburn][GII* listing][More views]

¹ Scott, D. The ‘Northern Gentlemen’.. and Anglo-Scottish relations in the Long Parliament, The Historical Journal, 1999.
² Wilkes, L. John Dobson: Architect and landscape gardener, 1980.
³ Faulkner, T., Greg, A. John Dobson Architect of the North East, 2001.

Sotterley Hall, Suffolk


see: Barry Cross / Flickr

In 1994 a wealthy London businessman named Jon Hunt acquired a very big house in the country. Rescued from an unfortunate recent past, majestic Heveningham Hall (r) is the very model of a stately stately, designed by Sir Robert Taylor with impeccable interiors by James Wyatt. Further to the restoration of this house as a private family home, an unexecuted parkland scheme by Capability Brown has since been realised and two more fine houses and thousands of acres beyond gradually acquired to create a cultivated wilderness.

Such an extravagant entree into the landowning echelon might easily attract the pejorative epithet ‘new money’ but then, of course, plenty of ‘old money’ was new itself once upon a time. Heveningham (pro. Henningham) Hall was begun in 1778 for Sir Gerard Vanneck, member of a wildly successful family of London merchants of Dutch origin (formerly ‘Van Neck’), the estate having been purchased by his elder brother, Sir Joshua (d. 1777), twenty-six years earlier. And, while ‘only a handful of the richest men in mid-C18 London were seeking permanent entry into the ranks of the landed elite’, this corner of East Suffolk had already attracted another.¹


see: Moviemakersguide

Some thirteen miles north-east of Heveningham stands Sotterley Hall (r), built c.1745 by one Miles Barne and today the home of his direct descendant, Miles Barne. Although the prodigiousness of the Vanneck house (and their acquisition of a baronetcy in 1751) suggests some disparity of wealth and ambition, for over half a century these City arrivistes would find common cause in a crumbling coastal settlement a few miles to the east.

From its Middle Ages zenith as a significant port town of 3,000 people and eight churches, rampant coastal erosion had by this time reduced Dunwich to a small village with just one. Crucially, however, one number had never changed: Dunwich still returned two members of Parliament. The archetypal rotten borough, ‘political affairs [here] were virtually reduced to a series of financial transactions’, the tiny number of voting freemen always alive to value of their situation.

With the encouragement of this electorate (numbering about fifteen at the time), three years after his arrival in the area Miles Barne paid unpopular local property owner Sir George Downing £1,200 for one of the two seats.² Being Dutch-born, a seat in Parliament was an impossible aspiration for Sir Joshua Vanneck at nearby Heveningham but he formed an alliance with Barne securing a seat each for their sons thenceforth. For the Barne boys, however, this was to prove rather more a burden than a privilege.

Miles Barne was a scion of another of those mercantile families who had prospered, inter-married and rotated the mayoralty of the City of London during the previous two centuries. In 1744, the year after his father (also Miles, a director of the East India Company until he ‘became insane‘) died, Barne, 25, signalled a new direction with his purchase of the 930-acre – today 3,500a – Sotterley estate.

playtThis place had been owned since 1475 by the Playters family whose fortunes had suffered at the time of the Civil War. Royalist Sir Lionel Playters endured ‘many acts of plunder and persecution’, the latter including a charge of ‘eating custard in a scandalous manner’ (plainly no trifling matter under the Commonwealth).³ A fine collection of Playters memorials are to be found in Sotterley parish church (left).


see: Doug Sharp / Panoramio

Miles Barne lost no time pulling down the Playters’ old house and replacing it with the brick mansion which stands, little altered, today. In a county where ‘major C18 country houses are few and far between … Sotterley Hall is a pleasant and complete example of its date’.4


see: Kirkleyjohn / Flickr


see: Peggy Cannell

No architect has been ascribed but a confident hand is evident: three-bay pediments feature on all sides of the H-plan house. On the N facade (left) a Venetian window and door arrangement interrupts the regular fenestration.


see source

‘It is capacious and contains some good apartments,’ noted local artist Henry Davy in compiling his truncated survey of Suffolk seats (1827, right). ‘But,’ he went on, ‘according to the usual mode of constructing houses in those days, a great deal of room is wasted on halls and passages.’ The most obviously purposed of these spaces, the entrance hall, features the best of several ‘exceedingly good fireplaces‘.4

As his new house was going up Miles Barne took a bride, Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of controversial ex-governor of Madras, Nathaniel Elwick. Alas, she would have little chance to enjoy life as lady of the manor, dying just two years later but having produced an heir, Miles. The latter would in due course inherit not just the Sotterley estate but also most of Dunwich (acquired 1754, dispersed at auction in 1947) and the Elwick property (May Place in Kent, sold 1938). Not forgetting, of course, the family seat in Parliament.

sotttempA retiring home bird, young Miles ‘refused to succeed his father [as MP] in 1777 because he ‘preferred living in the country”. Helpfully, however, his step-mother had produced a steady supply of half-brothers; less helpfully, they weren’t overly keen on going up to Westminster either though their reluctance stemmed from that awkward affliction of the gentry, younger son syndrome.

‘England offered relatively few opportunities for the impoverished remittance man and gentleman of leisure, other than hanging about the house dependent on the bounty of their elder brother. The majority had to rely on their talents, being launched into the world by their parents with little more than a lump sum and perhaps a fitting education. Worse still, there were relatively few respectable jobs open to the crowd of aspirants.’¹


see: Eric Johnstone / Flickr

Second son Barne Barne took the Dunwich seat in 1777 but was always seeking a salaried post as he was ‘anxious to marry and could not do so without employment’. (His schemes to boost the value of the family estates would also incur big debts.²) Eventually appointed a commissioner of taxes, Barne resigned his seat obliging squire Miles to step into the breach for a period. But ‘it is clear he was a reluctant member for he left no trace of activity in the House and retired on grounds of health’ at the first opportunity.

Brother Snowdon, a struggling barrister, now took his turn as MP, ‘a situation to which my circumstances are hardly equal’. He, too, sought paid office which he eventually secured in 1812 to be succeeded – ‘somewhat reluctantly .. my private fortune being too small to [establish] myself comfortably in London’ – by his soldier sibling, Michael. ‘Of the four Barne brothers in the House, Michael was the only one who married,’ and his only son, Frederick, would be the sitting family member when the unconscionable constituency was finally abolished in 1832.


see: James / Ipernity

Though the parliamentary seat had gone (and having inherited Sotterley) Frederick – a conspicuous man of the turf – would remain seated in Dunwich, which had been maintained as an estate village. He resided at another Barne family property, Grey Friars (r), a house much enlarged ‘in the Victorian seaside style’ for son Col. St. John Barne after his father’s death in 1886. And Frederick Barne would be interred, along with many other family members, at the church of St. James in Dunwich and not in St. Margaret’s which stands close to the Hall at the centre of Sotterley Park.


see: Bing Maps

A designated SSSI, the roughly circular 200-acre park ‘contains a large number of magnificent oaks, some with girths in excess of eight metres suggesting they must have been planted in the late Middle Ages’.5 As at Ickworth House in the west of the county, ‘these give, as they were doubtless meant to do, the air of a Plantagenet deer-park. But each contains a parish church, which no genuine deer-park ever did’.6

In 1886 the churchyard of St. Margaret’s was closed to new burials (“except in such vaults as are now existing”) ostensibly on public health grounds. Suggestions of an ulterior motive took hold, however, and would later resurface in the London prints after the ‘big house’ had instigated a move – ultimately unsuccessful – to now close the church itself. This from the Pall Mall Gazette 15 August, 1889:

When Sotterley people died nothing could prevent their relatives from carrying their dead to the churchyard. But was this not too bad, to have a funeral procession of tearful clodhoppers passing through your park gates and under your very windows, asking no leave but taking it in quite a brutal fashion.’


see: Karin Rowell


Adrian Cable / geograph

A replacement cemetery and octagonal brick chapel had been provided just beyond the bounds of the park (left). Warming to his theme the dyspeptic scribe ventured some architectural criticism, describing the chapel as ‘looking like a ginger beer stall in a cricket ground’ and Sotterley Hall itself as ‘an ugly white-brick mansion of no pretension’.

miles1Today, the ‘beer stall’ is appreciated as a ‘virtually intact and very unusual cemetery chapel of the late C19′, one that is still functioning thanks to the efforts of a dedicated preservation trust. Meanwhile, still ‘surrounded on all sides by a continuous belt of plantations and woods providing that air of privacy so typical of C18 parks’,5 the lauded husbandry of Sotterley’s current owner (left) continues to ensure that the sensibilities of unwary passers-by are not affronted by unexpected sightings of the (Grade I listed) ‘ugly mansion’…

[Sotterley Estate]

¹ Stone, L.,Fawtier Stone, J. An open elite? England 1540-1880, 1986.
² Lawrence, R. Southwold River: Georgian life in the Blyth Valley, 1990.
³ Lloyd, R. Welcome to Sotterley, 2007.
4 Bettley, J., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Suffolk: East, 2015.
Williamson, T. Suffolk’s gardens and parks, 2000.
Rackham, O. The history of the countryside, 1986.
See also:
Kenworthy-Browne, J. Burke’s and Savills guide to country houses: East Anglia, 1981.
Suckling, A. The history and antiquities of the County of Suffolk, etc., 1846.



On display in one of the gloomier corners of the British Museum, easily overlooked, is a richly decorated nine-inch porcelain soup plate. This C18 object is presented as an illustration both of the skills of Chinese artisans and also of the lucrative export trade which came their way via wealthy patrons in the West. But no less worthy of remark, from Handed on‘s perspective at least, is the historical dimension represented by the plate’s dominant heraldic emblem, being the family arms of the Okeovers of Okeover Hall.


The order for what would ultimately be a 154-piece dinner service was placed by Mr. Leake Okeover, Esq., in 1738 at a cost of £1 per plate. ‘The service is the only known instance in which the original painting which was sent to China to be copied has survived; it remains in the family,’ noted Christie’s in 1975 in the course of selling 100 pieces which no longer would (r). ‘The reproduction is exceptionally accurate and marks out this service as one of the finest ever made.’¹

Nought but the best seems to have been the way of Leake Okeover (b.1702) who would inherit the Okeover estate on the death of his grandfather in 1730. The orphaned son of Thomas Okeover and heiress Catherine Leake was free-spending from the moment he came of age as his ‘very extensive accounts‘ record. ‘Bills reveal lavish expenditure on jewellery, clothes,’² and fine pictures including that Georgian gentry must-have, the ‘conversation piece’, typically depicting squire and company in the foreground of a handsome abode.

cropped to image, recto, unframed

see: Yale Center for British Art

In 1745 Leake (above, seated) recruited an artist for whom such pictures would become a speciality, namely Arthur Devis, not long relocated to London from his native Preston. While his figures are often formulaic, his scenes somewhat ‘stage-managed … Devis appears to be a fairly accurate delineator of a sitter’s house’.³ Except that in this particular case the house as depicted did not actually exist – and never would. Leake Okeover had gotten a little ahead of himself, this version of Okeover Hall being destined to remain forever just an artist’s impression.

Certainly, grand plans to radically upgrade an existing house were well under way by this time. But before any work had started on the principal south front with its imposing portico things began to go awry.  Firstly, in 1747, Okeover’s architect Joseph Sanderson inconveniently died. Soon after, Leake’s extravagance finally began to catch up with him, eventually fleeing abroad to avoid his creditors doing the same. Six hundred years of Okeover heritage was suddenly in distinct peril.


see: Google Maps

The manor of Okeover had passed in the direct male line since a grant of c.1150 by the Abbot of Burton. The home range was imparked soon thereafter, bounded in the east by the River Dove (also the county border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire). At the death c.1400 of John of Gaunt’s ally and sometime enforcer
Sir Philip Okeover the family’s landholdings were on their way to encircling the nearby town of Ashbourne.

While Sir Philip’s son and heir Thomas would twice be elected to parliament for Derbyshire he largely ‘avoided the responsibilities of office, preferring to live quietly on his estates’. These he expanded significantly in the county and beyond through his second marriage to heiress Thomasina Sallowe and of which he would remain squire for 60 years. This record would stand until the time of Sir Rowland Okeover (d.1692) whose 67-year tenure was also notably fruitful.


see: Government Art Collection

60 different sorts of apple, 20 sorts of pears, 35 sorts of apricots and other plumms are to be found in the gardens of this ancient seat.’ A seat which at the time of this approving visitation by Robert Plot (then first Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum) in the course of compiling his ‘Natural history of Staffordshire‘ (1686), was a mid-sized Tudor house within a square moat (r).


see: Thornber

This was the place to which Leake Okeover removed in 1730, vacating Wymeswold Hall (his mother’s Leicestershire legacy which he had received upon coming of age eight years before). Leake would quickly make his mark at the site of his ancient birthright with a large classical stable block which together with the now private All Saints church (both left) remain essentially unchanged elements of the Okeover tableau.

But it would be at least a dozen years before thoughts turned to seriously remodelling the Hall, setting in train a morphing process which would effectively last two hundred years.


see: Google Maps

Phase One consisted of matching wings, broadly similar in proportion to the stable block, extending north at either end of the existing house; the east wing survives intact. The design for the final major element of the project, Joseph Sanderson’s patron-pleasing grand south front (below), would be a last-minute addition to Arthur Devis’s painting following a visit to the artist’s London studio by Sanderson in December 1746.


see: Yale Center for British Art

While the architect’s death the following August did not necessarily mean the end of Leake’s grand designs, his spending would. In the spring of 1751, facing debts of about £25,000, he took off to northern France for almost two years, lodging under the alias ‘Mr. Scrimpshaw‘ and leaving his wife and trustees to firefight the liabilities.

Wymeswold Hall was among substantial estate assets sold to meet the debts but in correspondence across the Channel Leake refused to countenance the disposal of Okeover itself: “I cannot nor ever will be brought to part with Okeover. I will much sooner never see England again than do it.”4


see: Peter Barr @ geograph


see: Churchcrawler

Work on the Hall eventually recommenced but the block at the S end of the east wing (left) was to be the last substantial addition before Leake died in 1765. This space features ‘exceptionally fine’ decorative plasterwork and joinery.5 Additionally, ‘there is much fine C18 furniture at Okeover’ and Leake’s especial weakness for exquisite ironwork remains much in evidence around the grounds.4



The Devis painting above is notable not only for the inclusion of a house which did not exist but also for the exclusion of a wife who most certainly did. A boys club of chums replaces the more typical family group, a scene which would never be possible since Leake and Mary – who died within months of one another, memorialised in profile by Joseph Wilton (r) – had no children. Nor would the next two heirs, the deeper reaches of the Okeover male line being mined until 1912. That year saw the death of Haughton Okeover whose remarkable 76-year tenure encompassed the entirety of Queen Victoria’s reign.


see: Country Life

The C19 saw ‘incoherent, piecemeal’ changes to the Hall: the removal of the west wing, the doubling of the S-E pavilion and a two-storey extension into the space once occupied by the original Tudor house (left).4 A satisfactory holistic resolution would not be achieved until the 1950s when Okeover passed in the female line, a turn which would also see the family’s local landholding coincidentally double in size.


see: Lost Heritage

On the opposite side of Ashbourne lies Osmaston, ‘a neat estate village with many picturesque cottages set against the backdrop of the park’,6 which itself is ‘stunning indeed’.7 The story of colossal Osmaston Manor (r) is excellently recounted here. ‘A magnificent example of that class of mansion in which wealthy Englishmen delight to dwell’8 …

… Osmaston was built by local industrialist Francis Wright between 1846-49 and acquired by Liverpool brewing magnate and philanthropist Sir Andrew Walker, 1st Bt, in 1884. In an unusual familial twist Sir Andrew and his son and heir Peter would marry two of squire Haughton Ealdred Okeover’s eight sisters, Maude (as his second wife) and Ethel, respectively.


see: Stones Events

Their brother died childless in 1955, the 3,000-acre Okeover estate now passing to Haughton’s only living nephew, Peter and Ethel Walker’s son, Sir Ian Walker, 3rd Bt, then incumbent at similar-sized Osmaston (r). Owning two houses six miles apart Walker eventually elected to demolish impractical Osmaston in favour of Okeover Hall, also becoming Sir Ian Walker-Okeover in obeisance to the ancient lineage.


see: Eamon Curry

‘Arguably the finest house built in England in the 1950s,’ Sir Ian’s remodelling of Okeover Hall was masterminded by architect Marshall Sisson. In retaining the Georgian E wing and recreating a counterpart, Sisson essentially reasserted Sanderson’s three-sided plan. The S-E pavilion was split to bookend an interposed nine-bay S section.5


see: Peak District Online

If the latter’s muted central bow is hardly the imposing statement of Leake Okeover’s imaginings the opposite, courtyard-facing entrance front is less effacing. Featuring ‘a full-height projecting porch with a pediment and giant statues on top from the gardens at Osmaston’,5 this is however not easily seen since Okeover remains the wholly private home of Sir Andrew and Lady Philippa Walker-Okeover.

And, while it is possible to walk these unsold acres and to view the scene as captured by Arthur Devis in the mid-C18, be aware that the bovine residents of the Okeover Estate, too, can be very protective of this ancient manor…

[GII* listing][Osmaston Park][Glenmuick Estate]

1. Howard, D., Ayers, J. China for the West, Vol. 2, 1978.
2. Mowl, T., Barre, D. The historic gardens of Staffordshire, 2009.
3. Harris, J. The artist and the country house, 1979.
4. Oswald, A. Okeover Hall I/II/III, Country Life, Jan/Mar 1964.
5. Robinson, J.M. The latest country houses, 1984.
6. Thorold, H. A Shell guide to Derbyshire, 1972.
7. Craven, M., Stanley, M. The Derbyshire country house: 2, 2001.
8. Country Life, July 12, 1902.

Britain is still remarkably green and rural, very little of the country is developed. Lack of land to build on is one the reasons houses are so expensive. Traditional landed gentry are just as much in evidence as they were a century ago or even a millennium for that matter.’


see: BBC / YouTube

Words taken from a BBC TV exposition of land ownership in England and Wales (r), now ten years old but no less relevant today. “It’s the old money that’s given us the most trouble – there’s no obligation on them to reveal what they own so they rarely do,” declares the presenter. Happily, several less reticent types – the late Earl of Lonsdale and the present Dukes of Northumberland and Rutland – were winkled out for interview.

This 90-minute documentary drew upon an earlier publication, Who owns Britain (Kevin Cahill, 2001), which had attempted to update the only systematic survey since the Domesday Book, the Return of Owners of Land of 1873. Cahill posited an ensuing Establishment agenda to expunge the Return from the historical record, a mission exemplified by the book English land and English landlords (1881), ‘a trumpet blast from the top of Victorian society [by] an over-educated dullard’, the Hon. George Brodrick.

As the second son of the 7th Viscount Midleton, Brodrick would never become squire of his family’s substantial acreage in Surrey and Ireland. He was, however, to become a significant de facto landowner when, in the same year that ‘English Land’ was published, he was appointed Warden of Merton College, Oxford.


see: Merton College

The university college was founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton and would be endowed with the income from parcels of tenanted land he snapped up hither and yon. In 1271 Merton acquired 385 acres in the parish of Barkby, some six miles north-east of Leicester; 745 years on, Merton College is still the owner of this property and has the original paperwork to prove it (r). Including as it does the Malt Shovel public house, Merton’s Barkby holdings might perhaps be represented as the hole in the doughnut hereabouts…

… being surrounded, from the late Middle Ages on, by a similarly abiding though progressively more substantial domain, that of the Pochin family of Barkby Hall.


see: Red Poll Cattle Society


see: Bing Maps

In 1447 Richard Pochin would marry local heiress Alice Willoughby. Seventeen generations on they remain in place having thenceforth ‘increasingly accumulated a large estate in the village’ and beyond. Running north-to-south and separating the two halves of Barkby village, the Hall’s ‘parkland (r) and agricultural setting have remained fairly unaltered for two centuries’ [Barkby Conservation Appraisal, 2011]. Which, unsurprisingly, is how the locals like it – hence, in recent times, scenes like this:


For since 2008 the residents of Barkby and the hamlet of Barkby Thorpe just to the south have been coming to terms with the prospect of ‘the biggest single housing development in the whole of Leicestershire’. Bringing the edge of the city ever closer, the North East of Leicester Sustainable Urban Extension (r) is a ‘£445 million scheme covering 800 acres [which] will see 4,500 new houses being built on what is currently farmland over the next fifteen years’.


see: Fisher German

The land in question is 90% owned by the Pochin Estate who have entered into partnership with a company called CEG. “We’re not just property developers, we’re place makers,” they declare, the first ‘place’ here seeming likely to be the 575 houses of ‘Melton Brook’ beginning sometime next year. “We are working with the landowner on a really high standard of architecture,” a CEG spokesman told the local press in March, an image of the Duchy of Cornwall’s Poundbury development in Dorset featuring at the back of this promotional literature.

A clue to the architectural leanings of landowner John Pochin (above) can perhaps be found in the perceptible alterations he has made to his own house, Barkby Hall (courtesy of aerial photography since ‘the Hall and parkland are almost invisible from the rest of the village’).


see: Google Maps

As we shall see, a fair measure of conservatism and sober restraint appear to be the Pochin Hall-marks not just of the present generation but down the ages, evidenced by this description from 1790:

Mr William Pochin lives in a plain dwelling environed by high walls and shaded by some lofty elms. There are no pictures to attract within this quakerly retreat nor any scenery without which deserves particular notice. All is like the worthy owner, plain and destitute of ostentation.’

wmpochinThe hall at this time was a C16 century house on its last legs, its ‘worthy owner’ being the MP for Leicestershire, founder of the still-thriving Pochin School in Barkby and a significant expander of the family estates. ‘Destitute of ostentation’ he may have been but William Pochin was also to remain destitute of a spouse, his eventual heir being a relative, Charles Pochin.  The latter’s succession ended a 300-year father-to-son descent of the Barkby estate…


see: Matt Chamberlain / YouTube

… a sequence which had first been imperiled by the simultaneous deaths from smallpox of the first wife and young son of Thomas Pochin, William’s father, in 1726. (The pair were buried together in St. Mary’s church behind the Hall, left, wherein a great many Pochins past are informatively memorialised.) Thomas’s second wife was a Trollope…

… Lincolnshire heiress Mary of that ilk, and they would go on to produce two sons and a daughter. But all three were to die childless, George and the aforesaid William within months of each other in 1798, and sister Mary who would have life use of the Barkby estates until her decease six years later.


see: Kairos Press

So all now passed to their uncle’s great-grandson, Charles Pochin, who, not long after being elected to Parliament as MP for Enniskillen in 1807, decided that Barkby Hall should be rebuilt. But £30,000 failed to buy his new abode a better press than its predecessor: ‘Barkby Hall is a large, plain, unadorned gentleman’s house, the situation of which has no particular beauties in scenery to recommend it’.

The Regency interior has been similarly characterised save for its main staircase, an elevating presence in every sense: ‘In the style of Wyatt and on a particularly grand scale, a main flight rises from the centre of the hall, divides and returns, stone treads and ornate metal trellis balustrading toplit beneath a domed ceiling.’


see: Andy Alston


see: Charnwood Council

At the turn of this century, the present owner’s wish to enhance the Hall’s main front met little resistance from heritage bodies: ‘It would be difficult to raise any strong objections to the proposals as they do improve the visual appearance of what are rather bland facades.’ Stucco-relieving rustication now flanks the existing balustraded entrance which itself gained emphasis with a stonework portico.


see: Bing Maps

That Barkby’s previously severe appearance had not been addressed by earlier generations might perhaps be explained by the fact that since 1762 the family had had the option of a second (somewhat more characterful) house elsewhere in the county. Edmondthorpe Hall, the favoured abode of William Pochin (d. 1901) through the latter half of the C19, burnt down in 1942 whilst under military occupation. Its plan, however, is still clearly evident (r) and land thereabouts remains part of the Pochin Estate.

In 1855 William Pochin’s youngest brother, Ralph, married Anna Winstanley and would adopt her family name seven years later when she inherited the Braunstone Hall estate on the opposite side of Leicester. This house is still there today (just) and its park is still a park. But they are an oasis in a suburban landscape, the entire 1000-acre Winstanley estate having been compulsorily purchased in 1925 by Leicester Corporation to meet the pressing need for housing in the area.

Fast-forward to 2016: ‘Landed gentry hold key to thousands of affordable homes,’ ran the headlines at the beginning of this year. With Phase I of a proposed 4,500 houses now an imminent reality, no one can say that the Pochins of Barkby Hall are not doing their bit…


see: Google Streetview

See also:
Plumptre, G. Scenes from the summerhouse [Barkby Hall gardens], Country Life, 2 Aug 1990.
Shipley, P. The Leicestershire gentry: its social & cultural networks 1790-1875, 2010.

‘Scorrier House, Tregullow and Burncoose are fine examples of grand houses and estates built for mining industrialists. These predominantly belonged to one family – the Williams’, one of the greatest mining dynasties in the Old World.’ (2004)

No need for the past tense here because they still do – and rather more besides. Likewise, the family’s renown, originally founded on the exploitation of Cornwall’s subterranean bounty, also endures although more these days through endeavours overground. Their name could be said to be more widely known than ever, in fact; at this time of year chances are there’s a Williamsii abloom somewhere near you right now.


see: HHA

One sunny day early last month saw a presentation on the lawns of Caerhays Castle in Cornwall (r), owner Charles Williams accepting the award of Garden of the Year 2016 from the Historic Houses Association and prize sponsor, Christie’s. ‘Caerhays is very much a traditional Cornish spring flowering garden, open from February to the beginning of June.’

The Castle itself can also be visited during this limited season, Caerhays being the most accessible and architecturally extravagent tip of the wider Williams family’s West Country iceberg, extending to half-a-dozen houses and an estimated 20,000 acres.1

Allowing architect John Nash free rein to create this Picturesque vision on the south Cornish coast financially embarrassed owner John Trevanion so acutely that he was forced to abandon his ancient family seat and flee abroad. The virtually derelict house would eventually be acquired in 1853 by Michael Williams (1784-1858), the fourth generation of a family ‘who made the other mining magnates of Cornwall look like under-achievers’2 and was, as will be seen, a ‘bold, skillful architect of his own colossal fortunes’.


see: Countryman’s Fair

The gardens at Caerhays began as the private passion of Michael’s grandson, John Charles Williams (d. 1939), who, whilst waiting to inherit the Castle from his mother, purchased Werrington Park (r), fifty miles to the north, from the Duke of Northumberland. An ‘ancient house’ with significant Georgian and late-Victorian remodelling, both Grade I Werrington (‘admirably sited’ above a large landscaped park, ‘excellent interior decoration’) and Caerhays remain in the possession of JC Williams’ descendants.3 As does…


see: CornishMemory.com

…Burncoose (left), some fifty miles south-west down the A30.  The most modest of this trio, it would be the base from which, after acquisition in 1715, the Williamses would ascend from tin and copper mine manager/owners to landed society, ‘their wealth rivalling that of potentates and nabobs’.4


see: Street View

‘The well-known nursery and woodland garden is open all year round but the house, remaining in the Williams family, is strictly private*.’5  Burncoose was inherited in 1775 by John Williams (d. 1841) ‘the greatest adventurer, ablest manager, best practical engineer of his time’ in Cornwall. John, however, would leave the early C19 development of this property to his son, Michael (who would later buy Caerhays), having built, in 1778, a new house four miles away…

… at Scorrier.

orchardToday, Caerhays and its commercial counterpart Burncoose have the recognized horticultural credentials but could the profile of Scorrier House and its garden (whose annual open afternoon has just been and gone) be set to rise? For this spring has seen the publication of a new book by bestselling historical novelist Tracy ‘The girl with the pearl earring‘ Chevalier. At the edge of the orchard concerns a struggling fictional family of American settlers, one of whom strikes out for the West Coast where he falls in with real-life Victorian plant hunter William Lobb.

In the years immediately prior to his globetrotting missions seeking out exotic blooms on behalf of the Veitch nursery Lobb had been head gardener…


Scorrier House


see: Scorrier House

… at Scorrier and is ‘responsible for the rare and fine specimens in the grounds’.6. Until last year when it sadly succumbed to old age (r), these included the tallest monkey puzzle tree in the land.

Lobb’s employer at Scorrier, John Williams, handed the property on to his eldest son, the aforesaid Michael. Having already successfully diversified into copper smelting, a quick-thinking stroke of enterprise would see Michael Williams famously play up his fortune in 1845 (critically, just prior to the arrival of a national rail link).


see: BBC / YouTube

On learning during a visit to London that the price of tin had suddenly gone through the roof Williams took the first coach back to Exeter, galloped the rest of the way on horseback and snapped up all available tin options before the news reached Cornwall. Buying low selling high turbocharged Williams’ finances, enabling the acquisition of Caerhays and also the expansion of Scorrier House eastwards overlooking the park (r).


see: CornishMemory.com

The historical division of the Williams estates occurred upon Michael Williams death in 1858, Caerhays and Burncoose going to eldest son John Michael, Scorrier to his sixth, George. George’s son John inherited in 1891 and returned home from the hunting field one afternoon 17 years on to find Scorrier all but destroyed by ‘one of the most destructive fires ever recorded in Cornwall’.7


see: Scorrier House

Scorrier House was quickly rebuilt, however, ‘the interior planned around a sumptuous, extravagant staircase and entrance hall’ adorned by pictures which were among the items rescued from incineration.3 (To Williams’ particular dismay the latter did not include the contents of the cellar. As one fireman told reporters, ‘bottles of champagne were hissing and popping off in all directions’.7)

The sound of popping champagne corks still regularly resounds hereabouts though in altogether jollier circumstances. For, while Scorrier ‘remains a private family home in the hands of Richard and Caroline Williams, their dogs and family’, the house and its ‘400-acre oasis of parkland and garden’5 are today a popular wedding venue. Now it’s not entirely inconceivable that the natural exuberance of such events may occasionally come to the notice of Scorrier’s next-door neighbour…


see: Bing Maps

… being Tregullow House (left), presently the home of Richard Williams’ younger brother, James.


see: CornishMemory.com

Tregullow was built in 1826 by William Williams, a younger brother of Michael (of Scorrier and later Caerhays), the proximity possibly explained by their having married the Eales sisters, Caroline and Elizabeth.  The brothers’ architectural tastes, too, were seemingly not dissimilar: two-storey Classical houses, relatively plain but with imposing rectangular porte-cocheres.


see: Cornwall Council


see source

With an inferno-free history, G.II Tregullow retains ‘numerous features of significant quality’ (r). In recent times both the house and its ‘truly secret‘ garden have felt the benefit of the present owner’s remunerative former career in international finance, undergoing a programme of substantial renovation.8

The builder of Tregullow ‘did even better in status if not in wealth’ than his brother (legendary tin speculator Michael), ‘acquiring not only a 6,000-acre estate but also a baronetcy’.9 Created Sir William Williams, of Tregullow, in 1866, that this title has already reached its tenth incarnation is due to the premature demise of the third baronet and each of his three sons between 1903 and 1917…


see: Upcott House

… a sequence of events which would precipitate the separation of house and title. Today, Sir Donald Williams, 10 Bt, ‘of Tregullow’, is in fact of Upcott House, near Barnstaple in Devon. ‘Set amongst gardens and woodland with far-reaching views across the Taw Valley, Upcott is owned by the Williams family, our home since it was built in 1752.’

This is not the family’s first outpost over the border, however. Another Devon house, Gnaton Hall, was owned and occupied by Michael Williams and his descendants through the second half of the C19. Much closer to home back in Cornwall the same line would also lease and significantly alter the two houses of the Beauchamps, Pengreep and Trevince (which remains in that family). And in 1809 the builder of Scrorrier, John Williams, acquired Sandhill House wherein he doubtless enjoyed his retirement (having remarried, aged 79, a Miss Edwards, 25).

Interviewed recently, Caroline Williams of Scorrier House remarked how, ‘when they left home [their now grown-up children] found it strange to live in houses that other people, rather than family, had lived in’. It would seem they would have to travel some way beyond the West Country simply to find one…

[Scorrier House][Tregullow][*Burncoose]

1. Cahill, K. Who owns Britain, 2001.
2. Smelt, M. 101 Cornish lives, 2006.
3. Beacham, P., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cornwall, 2014.
4. Cornish Times, 20 June 1857.
5. Gamble, B. Cornwall’s great houses and gardens, 2014.
6. Delderfield, E.R. West Country historic houses & their families, 1968.
7. The West Briton & Cornwall Advertiser, 5 March, 1908.
8. Oral history of Barings Bank: James Williams interview, British Library, 2009.
9. Thompson, F.M.L. Life after death, Economic History Review, 1990.